France has now vaccinated one million people against Covid-19, achieving the target a week ahead of the government’s announced schedule, even as the health situation remains severe.
Prime Minister Jean Castex confirmed the figure yesterday, in a Tweet with a hand-written thank you card.
He wrote: “To all of our healthcare workers, ministers, local authority workers, ARS [Agences Régionales de Sante] and all those who gave their effort to this exceptional vaccination campaign: thank you!”
The government had said it was aiming to reach the one million vaccination target by the end of January.
1 million de Français vaccinés. pic.twitter.com/domYssnqcj— Jean Castex (@JeanCASTEX) January 23, 2021
It comes after junior economy minister Agnès Pannier-Runacher said earlier in the day that she was “reasonably confident” that France would hit its objective of “15 million people” vaccinated by June.
Yet, in response to the prime minister’s Tweet, many people said that the “one million” figure was actually only half-correct, in that one million people have been given the first dose of the vaccine, which requires two doses - at least one month apart - to be complete and effective.
Vaccine gap and dose fears
This weekend, health authority La Haute Autorité de Santé (HAS) confirmed it had changed its vaccination strategy and recommended “to extend the gap between two doses of the [Pfizer and Moderna] vaccines”.
The initial gap was set at 21 to 28 days. This will now be extended, largely due to a worsening of the health situation and the HAS’ fear that there could be a lack of vaccines delivered.
The latter point was denied earlier by Ms Pannier-Runacher. She said: “We have new vaccines arriving [and] we have Pfizer, which is increasing its production capacity.”
Vaccine manufacturers Pfizer and AstraZeneca have both announced delays in deliveries to Europe.
Earlier this week, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) authorised the usage of an extra dose per vial of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine - after calls from medics for them to do so, to avoid waste.
But extracting the last dose requires a different kind of syringe that is not commonly used in France, leading to the EMA warning: “If standard syringes and needles are used, there may not be enough of the vaccine to extract a sixth dose from a vial.”
France is now seeking “supplies” of the “new types of syringes”.
Ambitious vaccination targets
In the past week, Health Minister Olivier Véran said that the aim was for the entire eligible population to be vaccinated by the end of August.
He told news programme 20 Heures, on channel TF1 that “probably 1.3 to 1.4 million” people would be vaccinated by the end of January.
He said that this would then rise to “4 million by the end of February, 9 million by the month of March, 20 million by the end of April, 30 million by the end of May, 43 million by the end of June, 57 million by the end of at least July, and 70 million - meaning the entire population - by the end of August”.
He added that “people aged 75 and above who are keen to be vaccinated will be before the end of the month of March”.
The government’s targets so far rely on four vaccines being used in France, starting from March onwards: Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, AstraZeneca/Oxford University, and CureVac.